Tag Archives: expatriatism

This one time, in the USSR

Here’s a story of expatriatism I heard the other night from an interesting corner of the world, Sakhalin Island, Russia.

It comes from one of the other Calvin students on the program. His name is Sasha and he was born in the USSR, but he’s ethnically Korean. He went to high school at an international school in South Korea, but he doesn’t speak any Korean, and now as a student in the United States (or, temporarily, Hungary), he identifies himself as Russian but admits that he’s given up on figuring out his cultural identity. That’s pretty common for a lot of third-culture kids, I suppose, but the way he arrived at that in-between identity is more unusual.

None of Sasha’s ancestors moved to Russia or the USSR. Instead, they moved to Japan, which controlled the southern part of Sakhalin Island in the early 20th century. Three of his Korean grandparents were forced laborers who where sent by the Japanese to Sakhalin (Karafuto in Japanese) to work in the coal mines on the island. His other grandmother was the daughter of a Korean businessman who moved his family to the island for his work around the same time. When the Second World War ended, the USSR took control of the entire island, and while Japanese citizens moved to Japan proper, almost a third of the island’s 150,000 Koreans were unable to move to either Japan or Korea. Japan wasn’t too concerned about its one-time forced laborers, the USSR didn’t take too much notice of them, and Korea was already pretty occupied with a looming war of its own.

Sasha’s businessman great-grandfather tried to leave the country to return to Korea, but he was thrown into prison as a member of the bourgeoisie. Without their patriarch, his grandmother’s family decided to marry her off, and did so, to Sash’s grandfather, who was a coal miner. And so it came to pass that the daughter of a bourgeois businessman married a forced laborer.

So for many years after that, Sasha’s grandparents lived in the USSR, learning Russian and raising families. Sasha was born a few years before the Soviet Union dissolved and he grew up in Russia in the 90s. There’s a whole nother battery of stories about that decade, but they’re not for this post. Anyways, today, one set of his grandparents have returned to Korea after 60 years of living on Sakhalin. His parents still live on the island, where they speak Russian but eat Korean food. In Russia, Sasha says he feels Korean; in Korea, Russian; and perhaps somewhere in between  in America or Hungary.

What a world.


How do I describe that shade of red?

Thanksgiving abroad is a potluck affair, and I was responsible for all things cranberry. Liz and Drew (whose visit was wonderful, a cause for thanks giving if you’ll pardon the expression) brought a can of jellied stuff, but I found some fresh ones in the import market and decided to make my first go cooking up that North American wonder berry.

I found a marvelous and simple recipe and set to work. I boiled the water, added the sugar, washed the berries and put ’em in the pot. Pretty soon, they started bursting, making this underwater pop pop pop. It was marvelous. The music, the color, the tart-sweet smell, the thickening texture and (I did sneak some) the taste.

It turned out well. I made one batch with orange peel and one with blackberries and cinnamon, and if I didn’t have to pay for them to be imported all the way from Wisconsin, I would probably make enough to eat for breakfast every day I’m here.

I missed being home for Thanksgiving, as it’s probably my favorite holiday and always a good time spent with family. But we made it work over here, and I’ll see you all soon enough. Is that Christmas music I hear?

Insider on the outside looking in (or: topophilia)

I came to Central Europe to learn about Central Europe, so it makes sense that three of my four classes here are about, well, Central Europe. But I also need to graduate (which I will do, eventually), which means getting at least one course here to count for geography credit. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim at our partner universities, so I’m taking, for elective credit, a sort of history-geography hybrid class on American regions.

As an American, I find it a little weird to study American regions while I’m in Hungary. Parts of it have been reviews of things I’ve studied from childhood, but it’s also been fun and enlightening. First of all, I’m constantly impressed by my Hungarian and Polish classmates’ knowledge of American history and culture. I wish I could say the same of my knowledge of their countries, and it’s a testament to them as much as it is a poor reflection on me that I don’t.

Second, I think I love America. This is the more surprising bit. I’m hesitant to call it patriotism (even though I do consider myself a patriot), because it has nothing to do with government or ‘the nation.’ It’s just that I love American landscapes and the things that fill them: road trips across Montana on Highway 2, snow falling fast in Massachusetts, hot apple cider on an October day in Michigan, the Great Lakes, NPR, Oberon.

The cultural geographer Yi-Fu Tuan called this sentiment topophilia, love of place. I’ve only read Tuan in excerpts, so I don’t know too much about his thinking, but I’m awfully familiar with topophilia as an experienced emotion. It hits me every Tuesday in class. It’s a good thing though, not hard like homesickness, and Tuesday nights I feel full of gladness.

It makes me think that for all the traveling I’ve done and enjoyed doing, I really belong in the States. I could go on studying American history, live in a U.S. city, and keep up on U.S. news for the rest of my life, and I’m sure I would be happy. But what about global understanding, ‘world citizenship’ and all that, the ideals of my youth?! How could I possibly consider becoming an Americanist? (It probably just shows that I’m not so much out of my youth that all this causes me so much angst.) I’m sure there’s a third way—and a fourth and fifth—and that I don’t have to choose between love for America and knowledge of the world.

At any rate, I do like America, but I would appreciate it, Calvin College Student News, if your lecture announcements would stop reminding me that I’m missing out on apple cider season and free drinks at campus events. And on Tuesday nights, I’ll think fondly of the Michigan fall I’m missing.

Then, I’ll probably go out for some mulled wine and pogasca and get a little topophiliac about Budapest.

All I want for Christmas is a submersion blender

This is what I love about expat communities: an American from our professor’s church gave their family a bunch of cooking supplies—including a jar of tahini—before returning home to the States last week, and because our prof’s wife doesn’t like the texture of tahini, she gave it to me in turn. And now I’m enjoying some fantastic baba ghanoush, which I prepared using a submersion blender left in our dorm by a previous group of Calvin students. Ah, the joys of giving away what we cannot carry.

Really though, the baba ghanoush is great. Here’s the recipe, modified slightly from AllRecipes.com:

  • 2 medium eggplant
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced and roasted
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  2. Place eggplant on baking sheet, and make holes in the skin with a fork. Roast it for 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, or until soft. Remove from oven, and place into a large bowl of cold water. Remove from water, and peel skin off.
  3. Place eggplant, lemon juice, tahini, sesame seeds, and garlic in an electric blender, and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer eggplant mixture to a medium size mixing bowl, and slowly mix in olive oil. Refrigerate for 3 hours before serving.

Our oven doesn’t exactly have temperature settings (it’s this antique thing that needs to be lit with a match after we manually switch on the gas), just numbers 1-8, but the roasting turned out well, and the submersion blender worked wonderfully. So easy to clean! Wish I could say the same of the mess I made when I opened the fridge and the leftovers tumbled onto the kitchen floor.